4 Essential Cycling Tips for Wet Weather Riding

Given how wet it’s been here in NorCal lately, we thought some cycling tips on wet weather riding would be helpful. So we updated our article on wet weather riding with some new additional suggestions and resources:

When we wrote about cycling in wet weather–wet and cold, in fact–on the Hidden Eel Lost Coast tour, a pretty common response was a sarcastic “That sounds like fun!” And when we wrote in Tips and Tricks for Smart Bike Tour Packing how perseverance is a state of mind in which you acknowledge a temporary discomfort and trust that you will be able to endure it? Some people might simply call that masochism.

But cycling in wet weather is all about preparation and experience which, when combined, result in the ability to ride safely on wet surfaces. This is far from seeking out discomfort. For Comova, “Wander far and wise” means being prepared for the uncertainties a cycling adventure can throw at you. It is a matter of anticipating challenges in order to minimize them if and when they arise. Having the confidence that the adversity of wet weather can be managed opens up a range of seasons and destinations for cycling adventures.

Looking out for debris on wet roads is one of many cycling tips for wet weather

Wet Weather Cycling Tips, #1: Know how your contact points react when cycling in wet weather

As important as what to wear and how to manage layers when cycling in wet weather are the knowledge and skills of how to safely handle a bike when wet terrain begins affecting traction and braking. A great and often overlooked place to start is with our contact points with the bike: hands, feet and bum. If things get slippery when wet, then making sure we can maintain good contact with our handlebars, pedals and saddle is essential.

Test out your gloves when both wet and dry to make sure you can still grab the brakes and shift without your hands slipping. Most gloves have at least a bit of rubber or other material intended to create friction on a smooth brake lever. But you won’t know how these work until you’ve tested them out. Some cyclists go as far as applying adhesive backed sandpaper to make smooth brake levers grippier.

Knowing how to prepare for wet weather, and how to ride safely on wet surfaces, is not the same as seeking out discomfort.

Here are a few reviews of various cold and wet weather cycling gloves:

For what it’s worth, we’ve used the Showers Pass Crosspoint Knit Waterproof Gloves and found them, like all “waterproof” garments, waterproof up to a point. When it’s wet and elow 40º we’ll switch to the DeFeet Duraglove ET (40% merino), which works well as a standalone glove in light rain, under a waterproof outer shell like the Toko Rain Glove or Bike Iowa’s Pogie Lites (which sadly are currently sold out). Ultimately, there’s no better way to dial in your set up than riding frequently in the rain to experiment with different combinations of gloves and shells.

While you’re out experimenting with your gloves, you might as well learn how your bum slides around on your saddle when wet. Some combinations of shorts or pants and saddle are treacherously slippery. Finally, for those riding flat pedals it is important to test out how your shoes grip the pedals when wet and find another shoe/pedal combo if you find your feet slipping. And for those on clipless pedals you’ll want to test out those booties you might plan to wear when it starts raining. If the cutout doesn’t align well with your cleat they can bind up in the pedal when you go to clip in.

Wet Weather Cycling Tips, #2: Know how your traction changes when cycling in wet weather

Now that you’ve considered your body’s contact points, let’s move to where the bike makes contact with the ground: tires. If you come to ride with Comova you’ll learn about our preference for wide tires. The wider the better. Narrow tires are a vestige of professional racing’s influence on the bike industry. If you’re not familiar with the myth that wider tires are slower, be sure to check out Jan Heine’s busting of the myth in Why narrow tires FEEL faster or Gravel Myths (1): Too Much Tire?

And even if narrower tires were faster, we’re not necessarily racing anyway. So why not take the advantage of the increased traction provided when there is more rubber in contact with the ground? For now, let’s leave tire tread for a future article in favor of a focus on tire width. Whether riding dry or wet or paved or gravel roads, on a wider tire you will quickly notice the feeling of being more connected to the road. Again, it’s more about the size of the contact patch than any specific brand of tire. As an example, we’ve ridden both Panaracer GravelKing Slick tires in 44mm width and 47mm wide WTB Horizons with great confidence on wet pavement and few punctures when set up tubeless.

But wet is wet and even with wider tires there are plenty of ways to lose traction on wet surfaces: wet leaves, railroad tracks, manhole covers, sticks and other storm debris. Rolling over any of these while heading straight ahead is seldom hazardous. It’s the ability to avoid these hazards while navigating a turn or cornering that is essential.

But wet is wet and even with wider tires there are plenty of ways to lose traction on wet surfaces

For starters, reducing your speed before entering a turn is always a good idea. Reduce it even further when on wet surfaces. Look ahead to identify hazards and avoid quick movements. Finally, flats tend to be more common when the pavement is wet. Do your best to anticipate and safely steer clear of gravel in intersections or other places where grit gets deposited by vehicles or by water runoff.

Wet Weather Cycling Tips, #3: Know how braking changes when cycling in wet weather

Braking is your final consideration. While disc brakes might be less susceptible to loss of braking power when wet, whether you’re on rim or disc brakes you need to allow more time to slow your bike down. Rim walls pick up a lot of water, dirt and grit and it can take many revolutions of the wheel before the brakes clean off the rim and establish enough friction to slow or stop you. Disc brakes suffer from the same problem but tend to get less water and grime on the rotors since they are further from the road surface. Either way, ride at slower speeds or look further ahead in order to allow yourself plenty of time to slow down. And remember the advice above about turning? Braking while turning on wet surfaces can be particularly treacherous. Brake before a turn. And favor your front brake as too much pressure on the rear brake can lock your wheel up and put you into a skid. 

Wet Weather Cycling Tips, #4: Choose low risk routes to get started

There’s a lot to pay attention to even when the pavement is dry. Given how much more is going on when the pavement is wet it’s a good idea if you’re new to wet riding to choose low risk routes to get started. What do we mean by “low risk”? First, it means staying relatively close to home or having other bailout options in case the weather worsens, you have a mechanical, or you’re soaked and you’ve simply had enough. Second, routes that utilize separated bike paths as much as possible are ideal. Traffic noise on wet pavement can be deafening (see Why is traffic noise on roads louder when it is raining?) and distracting. And drivers are often more unpredictable in the rain. Eliminate these variables by choosing routes that keep you separated from cars as much as possible.  

Cycling safely in wet weather

Just as a cycling adventure spanning a day or more requires advance planning and attention to detail, in any given moment on wet surfaces a rider who can plan for the need to stop and pay attention to the particular hazards making stopping or turning precarious will fare better in wet conditions. Whether contact points, tire selection, or turning and stopping, the idea is to equip yourself with the equipment and skills needed so that if you wind up with no choice but to ride in wet conditions you’ll have the confidence to take on the challenge.

Editor’s note: We did not discuss fenders here because, well, fenders are a can of worms. They don’t necessarily make riding in wet conditions safer. Unquestionably, however, they do serve the following two important functions: (1) they keep your feet and legs drier longer; (2) they prevent wear and tear on your drive train by containing tire spray. The can of worms has to do with questions of which type of fenders, whether your bike can accept fenders, whether they slow you down, and so on. Jan Heine covers all of these questions. If you want to dive deep into the topic of fenders, start here: Myths Debunked: Fenders DON’T Slow You Down

A protected bike path for cycling in wet weather and rain